The art of playing hurt

USC running back Marc Tyler said Tuesday he wanted to play against Notre Dame so badly it didn't even matter how he was feeling, health-wise, just days off a shoulder dislocation he suffered last Thursday against Cal.

Trojans coach Lane Kiffin took that comment to heart.

"I think it says a lot about Marc, him making that statement," Kiffin said Wednesday. "It says a lot about his dedication to his program after all he's been through. So it's great to hear.

"But it's our job as the coaches to make sure that we're doing the best for the whole season."

For that reason, Kiffin said, Tyler will be a game-time decision. He'll likely make the trip to South Bend, Ind.

Other Trojans have uttered similar lines to Tyler's this week and earlier this season. Freshman receiver Marqise Lee, in particular, told reporters Wednesday that he "didn't need" to be 100 percent to play on Saturday.

Eighty percent would be enough, Lee said -- and maybe so, because Lee wasn't limited long after he hurt his fingers making a catch against Arizona earlier this month. But Lee must prove to others that he's ready to play, not just himself.

"A lot of those injuries, a lot goes into them," Kiffin said. "They may be hurt, like a lot of our guys are every Saturday when we go to play, but are they injuries that can get worse if they play with them?

"And that's what we have to look at when we look at it Saturday morning."

That's certainly the case with Lee, undoubtedly a tough player but also the type of player prone to overestimating his own readiness to return to the field. When the worry is re-aggravation, as it is with him, the Trojans have to pay special attention to limit the risk in allowing him back on the field.

"We have to really watch Marqise, because he does do that when he falls a lot when he goes to get the ball," Kiffin said. " And he's so tough, he's not going to tell us any different.

"If there's any way for him to play, he's going to try to play."

And Tyler, too. And most college football players, for that matter. It's Kiffin and the USC training staff's job to discern who actually can play.